Wednesday, March 24, 2004
Updated: April 13, 7:54 PM ET
Season debut comes at Nasdaq-100 Open
By Cynthia Faulkner
KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- "I have the hunger for it."
"I'm just so desperate to be on the court."
"I'm so excited. ... I wish I could play today."
Sounds like Serena Williams is ready to play tennis again.
"I really think that I'm in better shape," Williams, who underwent surgery on her left knee Aug. 1, said Wednesday morning. "I've been able to do a lot more running. I've been more dedicated to getting myself in shape. I think I'm in better shape. We'll see. I haven't had a lot of match play."
Williams, who plays her first match in the Nasdaq-100 Open on Thursday, hasn't competed since defeating her sister Venus at Wimbledon last year.
"I don't want to say it, but I think it's going to definitely be an adjustment," she said. "I've been away for quite some time. It would be kind of na´ve for me to say it would be no adjustment at all."
When asked about how her younger sister is playing, Venus coyly said she hadn't seen her the past few days. They are not practicing together as much these days because they're on different schedules.
Venus is, however, happy that her sister is returning to the circuit. Venus, who also had a long injury layoff, returned to play in January in time for the Australian Open, where she was defeated in the third round.
"Definitley, on the way to Australia, we all agreed there was something missing [without Serena]," Venus said.
In addition to having the moral support back, Venus said she feels healthy again.
"I feel good. I did struggle with some injury issues, and I just have to monitor myself and take care of myself and really make sure I'm not overdoing it," she said. "That's the easiest way to have a relapse."
It hasn't been easy so far. With a match record of 4-2 this year, she's in the unfamiliar position of plain beatable.
"Some of the losses I had to suffer were very trying and challenging," Venus said, "because I know the player that I am and normally I'm able to go through and be able to win."
Former Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic, who is struggling with his own injury problems, doesn't think it will take long for Serena or Venus to return to championship form.
"Serena is not going to have a tough time because she is one step in front -- Serena and Venus. Only maybe [Justine] Henin and [Kim] Clijsters and [Jennifer] Capriati, but Capriati, she has to be very fit to keep with those two sisters, otherwise &.
"[Serena] going to maybe need two, three tournaments, but then probably they're going to be just like it was before -- finals: Serena and Venus all the time."
Capriati expects to take a little time to get comfortable.
"Really, I've only missed two months, so it's not that much long of a time, but I give myself another few months of playing," Capriati said. "That's why I'm just still not expecting too much now in this tournament."
Capriati has a bye into the second round, where she'll face Klara Koukalova, who defeated Alexandra Stevenson 5-7, 7-5, 6-0 on Wednesday.
"For me, [it's about] coming back and just trying to get back into playing matches and being tournament tough and match tough again," Capriati said. "Even the first round is going to be difficult for me."
Capriati also knows something about coming back from a long break in 1994 and '95.
"I was having horrible results when I first came back," Capriati said. "But there were a lot of issues going on. There was just a lot of fear, not even physically speaking, it was more like a mental thing. With all those combination thingies. Even now I'm giving myself at least two or three or four tournaments."
But Capriati said it's possible for Serena to quickly regain her position in the tennis world.
"I wouldn't be surprised," Capriati said. "You know, things like that can happen. And I think it would be very difficult. Even she is human. But I wouldn't put it past her or put it past any of the great players."
Aside from injuries, the sisters also had to come to grips with family tragedy when their half-sister Yetunde Price was fatally shot Sept. 14.
"It's been hard," Serena said. "I've had a tough year and a half. Yes, it's been difficult. We are very close as a family, and we talk on a daily basis, and we all just try to pull each other together & I think it has helped me in my tennis game also, with not coming back because I thought, to me, tennis was just so much of my life, and then you begin to realize that life is much more than hitting a tennis ball over the net. So that's been able to really calm me down as well as to not get back so soon."
It was obvious that Serena's career was coming back into focus when someone asked her what she thought of No. 1 Henin-Hardenne skipping the tournament.
"Honestly, I didn't even know she wasn't here until just recently," Serena said.
Won't she miss that challenge here?
"I'm going to play her soon enough," Serena said.
Cynthia Faulkner is the tennis editor for ESPN.com.